Happy Suffrage Day!

We’re celebrating 123 years since all New Zealand women won the right to vote.

On 19 September 1893, New Zealand’s governor Lord Glasgow signed a new Electoral Act that granted all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

That stroke of the pen made Aotearoa the first self-governing country in the world to grant all women the right to vote—and was a crucial step towards gender equality in this country.

Creating change together

Women’s suffrage couldn’t have occurred without the combined work of a visionary, passionate and dedicated group of men and women—or without the critical mass of everyday New Zealand women who believed in the value of equal votes.

Women’s suffrage organisations, including the WCTU, lead three petitions over three years that gathered thousands of signatures from around New Zealand. The 1893 petition included nearly 32,000 signatures, almost a quarter of the adult European women of New Zealand.

Leadership that looks like Aotearoa

These days we think it’s bananas that a country could be governed by a group that represents less than 50% of the population—yet the cause of women’s suffrage was hugely divisive at the time.

In 2016, the work to create a truly representative political leadership for Aotearoa is far from done. At the last election, only 31% of our members of parliament were women and only 45% sat outside the ‘baby boomer’ generation1.

The number of women in business leadership are even lower—but attitudes towards the importance of representative business leadership are overwhelmingly positive.

Modern businesses recognise the economic and social value that diversity adds to their organisation, and the research backs it up. For example we know that:

  • companies with more women on their boards have been shown to financially outperform companies that have no women on their boards2
  • a diverse employee base brings new opportunities to businesses in terms of market opportunities3 and that
  • diversity can drive innovation and performance4.

So: we already recognise the need and value for diversity. What we need to do is to actively work towards more diverse business leadership, challenging conscious and unconscious biases, and actioning the changes we know that are best for New Zealand.

Better for New Zealand—and New Zealanders

In the same way that women’s suffrage leaders like Kate Sheppard believed women’s suffrage was the best thing for New Zealand society as whole, Global Women believes that diverse representation is fundamental to the societal and economic prosperity of our country.

We also know we can’t achieve this change alone. That’s why Global Women partners with some of New Zealand’s most important businesses to lead and advocate for more diverse business leadership and have formed Champions for Change, a group of NZ CEOs and Chairs who are committed to raising the value of diversity and inclusion within their organisations and to put in place strategies to actively promote the concept among their peers.

And it’s why we’re helping to develop tomorrow’s leaders though our development programmes: TupuToa, Activation  and Breakthrough Leaders.

  1.  Parliamentary Library, Final Results 2014 General Election, 25 February 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2016 from https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/research-papers/document/00PLLawRP2015011/final-results-2014-general-election
  2.  Barbara Lejczak, Diversity on Board!, 10 June 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2016 from https://www.credit-suisse.com/us/en/articles/articles/news-and-expertise/2015/06/en/diveristy-on-board.html
  3.  Mai Chen, Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government & New Zealand, ND (2015). Retrieved 15 September 2016 from http://www.superdiversity.org/pdf/Superdiversity%20Stocktake%20-%20Implications%20of%20Superdiversity%20for%20Business.pdf
  4.  Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall and Laura Sherbin, How Diversity Can Drive Innovation, December 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2016 from https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation

Image from Archives NZ on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/16008456223/in/photostream/